Pete Burnham was shocked to realize that Santa Barbara didn’t have any truly good, diverse beer concepts and he made it his mission to fill that void. His answer: Lama Dog Tap Room & Bottle Shop, featuring 20 beers and 3 wines on tap and a wide range of specialty bottled beers that customers can either take home or enjoy on site.
Pete Burnham began his career by spending countless hours climbing barrel stacks, analyzing fermentations, and bottling cases of wine. He was just like any other "cellar rat", doing grunt work at one of the many wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley in order to gain experience and start making a name for himself in this tight-knit winemaking community. Soon thereafter, he landed an assistant winemaking job at Carr Winery and was given the opportunity to make his own wine on the side using Carr’s land and equipment, something that happens to be one of the perks that generally accompanies an assistant winemaking gig. Pete’s now years long friendships with many in the wine industry, including Ryan Carr, happens to be a perk that generally accompanies anyone with the laid back, easy charm that Pete embodies.
In those early years, Pete had his sights set on opening a tasting room that would exclusively feature wines from other assistant winemakers with small labels. With a desire to support those who were essentially climbing the ranks with him, he envisioned the tasting room to be playfully named Cellar Rat. Somewhere along the way, as he grew more deeply immersed in the winemaking process, he had an epiphany. “Have you ever heard the saying, ‘It takes a lot of great beer to make great wine’?” Pete asks, smiling. “Well, that really caught up with me. Any winemaker will attest to the fact that during harvest the last thing anyone wants to drink after a long day digging out a fermenter is a glass of red wine. A cold crisp beer is much more refreshing.”
And while Pete was drinking those cold crisp beers, he became intrigued by the ever-growing craft beer culture that had started exploding around 2010. At the time, he was shocked to realize that Santa Barbara didn’t have any truly good, diverse beer concepts and he soon after made it his mission to fill that void.
His answer: Lama Dog Tap Room & Bottle Shop. Named for Pete’s lovable and enormous Tibetan Mastiff, Lama (named for fellow Tibetan, the Dalai Lama), Lama Dog will embody the community aspect that’s become so essential to the craft beer concept. With the Funk Zone rapidly becoming one of Santa Barbara’s premier food and beverage neighborhoods, Lama Dog will definitely be a tourist destination, but with Pete’s carefully curated selection of craft beers, along with his friendly presence behind the bar, it will also be a place for local “beer geeks” to return to and enjoy on a regular basis.
Pete has fully embraced and is excited to share the unique craft beer culture. “Beer is fun, it’s never stodgy,” says Pete. “The brands are fun, the branding is fun and the people are fun. Laid-back, everyday people. It’s something that’s completely accessible for everyone.” In doing research for Lama Dog, he traveled the country visiting bottle shops and taprooms, absorbing the themes: playful design, a range of vastly diverse flavors, a true understanding of the product & a relaxed but lively atmosphere.
At any given time, Lama Dog will have 20 beers and 4 wines on tap. He will also have a huge walk-in and 6 reach-in refrigerators, each filled with a diverse range of specialty bottled beer that customers can either take home or enjoy on site. The beers will be sourced from all over the world, but will remain California heavy for the simple reason that California, especially Southern, is one of the major epicenters of beer, holding its own with other craft brew hot spots such as Portland and Seattle. Don’t be surprised to spot Pete driving around California in a refrigerated truck. He plans to make bimonthly trips throughout the Golden State to pick up beer from breweries that don’t distribute in Santa Barbara, making Lama Dog the only place in town with those labels.
The tap room and bottle shop will interact dynamically with the other concepts set to launch at the Waterline. Pete and Norbert Schulz of The Nook will be collaborating on pairings based on Norbert’s seasonal menu and what’s currently on tap at Lama Dog. Norbert’s diverse, elevated street-food concept couldn’t be a more perfect fit for the beer Pete will be sourcing. In addition to Fox Wines, Pete is thrilled to be sharing the space with local brewery, Topa Topa, making Lama Dog part of the new chief beer destination in Santa Barbara, a location of choice for anyone looking to imbibe in a family friendly environment anchored by delicious food. Being as Lama Dog’s beers will have a California focus, they will also have an IPA focus. But Pete’s quick to point out, “You name it, we’ll have it. Our taps will follow trends in beer as they’re happening and anything we don’t have on tap, we’ll have in bottle form.” And as far as his small offering of wine is concerned, it will certainly be sourced from local and small assistant winemaker labels, keeping Pete true to his cellar rat roots.